The Istanbul Convention, officially known as the “Council Of Europe Convention On Preventing And Combating Violence Against Women And Domestic Violence” of the Council of Europe Treaty Series, is a European Union convention that aims to put an end to the violence against women as a major step forward in making Europe a safer place.
What began as several initiatives from the 1990s to promote the protection of women against violence became a full-blown treaty. And on May 11, 2011, the Istanbul Convention was opened for signatures, coming into force on August 1, 2014.
As Morning Star so crudely put it, Turkey is clearly on the road to becoming “a slaughterhouse of women”. This is due to the fact that the country has been dealing with an alarming rise in domestic violence and femicide in recent months and years.
In 2019 alone, 474 women were murdered in Turkey, mostly by their former or current partners or male relatives and acquaintances in their own homes. Despite this report, however, conservative officials declared on a televised interview that the decision to sign the Convention was “really wrong”, citing “gender and sexual orientation issues” as the reason.
As if this wasn’t enough proof that Turkey is in dire need of a legal framework against women violence, increasing numbers of femicides in the country were reported by Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu (We Will Stop Femicides Platform, KCDP). The numbers rose from 21 femicides on May, 26 in June, to a heart-breaking 36 in July.
However, women’s groups from all around the country protested against Turkey’s decision to pull out of the Istanbul Convention. One of them is a group of women from Edirne, who reportedly said, “Don’t touch the Istanbul Convention,” in a July 20 press conference.
Turkey isn’t the only one who is planning on withdrawing its signature. Poland also mentioned it is planning to withdraw from the convention.
The country’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro argued that the Istanbul Convention violated the rights of parents.
Ziobro also added that reforms introduced in the country in recent years already provided sufficient protection for women, even without the Convention.
The Spanish government is working on changing its controversial rape laws to focus on the importance of sexual consent.
The initial rape laws of Spain has a distinction between sexual abuse and the more serious offense of sexual assault. This distinction has prompted nationwide outrage and protests when a group of five men who called themselves “La Manada,” which means wolf pack, was initially cleared of gang-raping a teenage woman, only to be convicted of sexual abuse, which is a lesser offense.
As intimidation was then the main key to establishing the crime of rape, the court in Navarre in northern Spain decided that the woman did not face violence or intimidation and the group was only sentenced to nine (9) years in prison.
However, thanks to the Istanbul Convention’s definition that “consent must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances”, the Supreme Court has overruled the previous sentence introducing the principle of “only yes means yes” in June 2019 and raised the men’s jail terms to 15 years.
Without the Istanbul Convention, those men would have gotten away serving for a lesser crime than they actually committed.
Although the UK has already signed the Istanbul Convention on June 8, 2012, it has yet to validate its support for the treaty until now. In fact, just recently, one of its constituent countries, Scotland, called on the UK government to ratify the convention.
Scotland’s Communities Secretary Angela Constance wrote to Home Secretary Amber Rudd asking for a clear timetable in which they could proceed with the ratification. Additionally, SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford has put forward a private members’ bill at Westminster also calling on the UK government to ratify the convention.
However, the convention about “extraterritoriality”, the issue of local legal jurisdictions, has been holding the UK government back. According to former Home Office minister MP Karen Bradley when she was still in office back in February, when the issue is clarified and the relevant legislation is passed, the government would ratify the convention.
In the meantime though, Theresa May, who was the UK Home Secretary when the country signed the convention back in 2012, said that the UK will be continuing with their “good record” of dealing with violence against women and girls as they have done before. For example, putting into operation domestic violence protection orders and the new coercive control offense.
Despite the dire need and great significance of the Istanbul Convention for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women it protects and could still protect, some countries keep getting veered into unrelated issues. Some even seem to overlook the reasons why the convention was drafted in the first place.
To say that concerns about the Convention aren’t valid wouldn’t be proper since, like most things, there is always room for improvement. But if proper implementation of the treaty was only observed, more women, in fact, could benefit from it. To say it simply, there is proof that the Istanbul Convention can help protect women – one only has to look at Spain’s La Manada rape case to see it.